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Frustrated/Upset with Council RE: Food @ Camp

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Ok, so here's the situation:


Our troop is scheduled to go to a local Council-run summer camp this Sunday (July 4). We have two boys in our troop (one is my son) who cannot eat wheat or gluten. My son also cannot eat dairy. In addition, I cannot eat gluten either and I had planned to volunteer as an adult leader at camp this year. The camp policy on special diets is as follows:


Food Service:

Our goal is to give you a well-balanced menu with high quality food. Persons with special menu needs may visit the council web site at www.cpcbsa.org in early May to view a copy of the camp menu if they wish to bring special items to supplement our menu (i.e. diabetic, vegetarian, and food allergies). A Special Needs Form should be completed and returned to the council office one month prior to arrival if special dietary health issues exist. A camper may need to bring supplemental food items to satisfy special needs. Please also notify the camp food service personnel upon your arrival at camp.


Well, there isn't a single meal on the entire camp menu in which the main course does not contain gluten, and most contain dairy as well. The camp only allows a SMALL space in the refrigerator for a few "special" items to substitute, does not allow any campers or adult leaders to prepare food in the kitchen except for access to a microwave and toaster (the toaster being absolutely useless to us since it would contaminate anything put into it with gluten), and does not allow their food service staff to specially prepare any food for individual campers. Essentially, they cannot accommodate a dietary need of this magnitude in their kitchen. WHICH I UNDERSTAND and would not really expect them to.


So, after discussing the situation with our Scoutmaster, Council chairperson (who happens to be the mother of the other kid who can't eat gluten), and the ASM who is generally in charge of dealing with camp stuff, we came up with a plan to ensure that our kids could go to camp and their nutritional needs still provided for. We filled out the appropriate accommodation requests and asked that I be allowed to park my RV at the camp so I could use my small kitchen to prepare meals for the boys. The paperwork was submitted to the Council in May, and we never heard back. The ASM was supposed to follow up with the Camp Ranger, but he had a family emergency that sort of distracted him and I just found out that he never followed up. So yesterday I called the Council to double-check that everything would be OK for me to bring my RV and park it there.


As it turns out, they had misplaced our paperwork, stuck it in the wrong stack, never forwarded it to the Camp Ranger, and apparently never even read it. At my insistence that it was turned in, she kept looking and found the paperwork "in the wrong place."


And, the answer is "No." It is against Council policy to allow RVs at camp. Period. End of story. They said in a voicemail they would "understand" if we canceled, but did not offer to refund camp fees. They will not allow me (or the boys) to prepare food in their kitchen. They will not make any variation whatsoever on their stated policy -- a small corner of the fridge and a microwave. They won't say how "small" is small, but the food services person told me yesterday that they really don't have much room because their fridge has to hold all the food for 200 campers for the entire week.


The other boy is willing to try to get by on salad for the entire week (!) but I don't know whether my son will feel the same way and I won't be able to reach him until tomorrow because he's out of the country (building houses in Mexico). I thought we had this all planned out nicely, so as to have little to no impact at all on the Camp staff and facilities and still make sure the kids had enough fuel to run on for the week.


I am thoroughly disgusted with our Council right now. Am I overreacting? How do your camps handle special dietary needs? Any suggestions? I would be a lot less upset if they would have done their job and read the accommodation request back in May when it was submitted, and contacted me then so we could work something out. I wouldn't have minded sitting down with someone and going over our options and trying to find an alternative if what I suggested wasn't going to work, but with only a little more than 48 hours left before the kids leave for camp, it's a little late for that now.


To top it all off, the food services person won't leave me a phone number to reach him at, his number is blocked so I can't get it off my phone, and the email address he left on my voicemail bounced. So now I'm at the mercy of our half-cocked Council to try to relay a message back to him.

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Understand and sympathize. What about the two scouts, and maybe event he whole troop, picking up the supplies form the dining hall, and adding the stuff you can eat, and have hte troop cook their own meals?

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It's really too late to try to arrange for the entire troop to cook at their campsite... even if they'd be allowed, which I doubt. They do have one day where they prepare meals at the campsite, but the food provided for the kids to cook is still full of gluten.


I will call the CE tomorrow and see if there's anything else that can be done. It's true that a lot of foods don't require refrigeration, but they do require preparation. If they would allow for access to kitchen facilities we could do it with minimal refrigeration. I am not sure eating nothing but canned chili three times a day for a week is realistic (Ok, two meals a day since he could take boxes of cereal and a milk-alternative for breakfast), and that's pretty much all I can think of that would be able to be heated in a microwave and doesn't require refrigeration. That, and I think there's one brand of canned vegetable soup that doesn't have wheat or dairy in it...


I could rush around and completely re-think the menu and let my son cook his camp stove for the whole week if that would be allowed... which I doubt... but it would be super expensive.


With a little more time to plan I might be able to figure something else out. It's tough because our solution to our dietary needs in our family has generally been "we cook everything from scratch." Pre-made foods that contain neither gluten nor dairy are extremely expensive. A single (tiny) serving of microwavable "rice mac and cheeze" costs $5 (and has to be stored in the freezer). So the task of trying to figure out what meals I can put together that can sit in a box for a week and be heated up in the microwave with zero prep work in the next 48 hours is extremely daunting.


We've been working on figuring out a workable backpacking menu for the last three months and we still have some "gaps" to fill that we haven't figured out yet.


I thought I had a solution that would be acceptable, and since nobody called me to tell me "no" -- I really thought everything would be fine. I just feel very blindsided right now.

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You would like one of our camps (at least food wise).. We have 2 that neighbor each other. One is the typical camp. One does not have a dining hall. Each site has equipment to cook at. Food is dropped off daily and the boys prepare their own meals.. From what I am told it is all fresh and wholesome.


Like everyone else said. Bring coolers and campstove and cook your own food at the site. A scout should be able to prepare meals without an RV. You may need to go out a few times over the week for ice for the coolers and more supplies, but your camping.. So enjoy the whole equation of what camping is all about. Does your troop have any Dutch ovens.. I alway enjoy Dutch oven cooking while camping.


After a few meals at the cafeteria, the other scouts will be in envy of your meals. Most camp cafe's are know to be not the greatest food..

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I sympathize with your situation, but I also have to side with the council in banning RVs. There's no place for them in Scout camping, even at a developed residential summer camp. If one person is allowed an RV to cook in, why can't another person be allowed an RV to sleep in? ... it's a very slippery slope, especially when we're trying to disconnect kids from the man-made world.


An instant fix to your situation would be patrol cooking, not eating in the dining hall, so that each patrol has control of its food needs. But it's a bit late in the game to do that.


I'm assuming that what you need to store and prepare the food is refrigeration and a stove. Those can easily be obtained without parking an RV in camp. Purchase a medium-sized dorm-style portable fridge and pack everything in there, then plug it in in a corner of the camp's kitchen, so they don't complain about you taking up too much space in "their" fridge. Then use one of your son's patrol stoves to cook the food in their campsite. Done!


Frankly, since the council clearly didn't assess your request on its merits the first go-round, my guess is that they saw the word "RV" and it got an instant rejection. In addition, a parent requesting that she be allowed to cook special meals for two boys in a motorized camper smacks of hovering-parent syndrome to many folks. I know you have good reason for your request, but there are alternatives that the council might be agreeable to.


Think about how your son and his patrol handle food on a weekend campout. There has to be a simple alternative. He can't possibly need the full kitchen provided in an RV to eat every meal. I Googled "gluten free backpacking" and came up with quite a few pages that appear to have useful information. If other folks can prepare gluten-free meals on the trail, it's possible for your son and his fellow Scouts to do the same at summer camp.


A few links:






Good luck!



Edited to add: Don't feel blindsided. Think about the sheer volume of paperwork that one or two underpaid council clerks are bombarded with for summer camp registration, and feel sorry for them. A good rule of thumb for Scouting, especially when dealing with the council office, is never to assume anything.


Edited again: Also check out recipes for freezer-bag cooking - dehydrated or other meals where you just add boiling water into a freezer bag, smush it up, and eat. All you need is water and a flame!(This message has been edited by shortridge)

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A couple of years ago I was in charge of planning and logistics for my son's troop to go to camp in another state. We had two boys and an adult with multiple special dietary needs. One of the boys, I swear he could eat cardboard but not much else, which made this a pretty big challenge, given the nature of typical camp food.


The arrangement was that the camp kitchen staff was not allowed to prepare the special meals that these folks needed (as per state health & safety regs), but they were willing to allow a troop adult and the boy(s) in question to arrive early in the kitchen to prepare their own food. They had to be supervised by a troop adult who would be 'responsible' for them and the food they prepped and ate. There were waiver forms for parents to sign, etc. But it happened, and all turned out reasonably well. While not ideal in some situations, none of them starved.


Cooking in the patrol/troop sites is another option, as someone else mentioned. That way, at least the people in question have reasonable levels of control over ingredients.


By the way, the adult I referenced above with dietary issues had been prepared to "live on salads" if possible, rather than cooking their special foods, but when they came back they told me that the BSA camp's idea of "salad" and theirs were very divergent. Your scout who plans to get by on salad should be prepared for the potential of rather slim salad pickings at camp.



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You're right that they don't need an RV. They just need refrigeration and a stove. A camp stove would be fine... frankly what I have in the RV really isn't much more than that, anyway. If they would allow me a reasonable space in a fridge (which they don't have) and a camp stove, that would be fine. I even talked to the food services director about this yesterday, but he just reiterated that space is very limited and didn't address my camp stove request at all.


So the problem is that I'm fairly certain they won't allow a camp stove, either. Plus, scheduled camp activities run right up to meal time, so scheduling time for the boys to cook their own meals means they might as well not go to summer camp at all. And it doesn't solve the refrigeration problem. Buying a $150 dorm fridge, on top of the camp fees and all the food for the week, even if I can find one on such short notice, seems a little ridiculous to me, and again, I seriously doubt they'd allow me to plug one in anyway. Filling coolers with ice might be sorta feasible, but meat and bread will need to be kept frozen or they won't last a full week.


Another problem is that the other boy is so neurotically afraid of being "different" that I already know he won't be willing to eat a menu completely different from the other kids. I'd been planning on preparing food that was more or less identical to what the other kids were eating, so that this one kid's fear of looking different wouldn't be an issue. My son is a lot more thick-skinned in that way and I know he wouldn't have any problem just cooking his own food if he were allowed to do so. In fact, that's what he's doing with his youth group this week in Mexico. He doesn't care whether he's eating what everyone else eats, as long as he's fed.


So this causes a potential problem with, "Why is this other kid willing to just eat salad all week and your kid needs us to waive the rules about propane in the camp site" or whatever. Even if they'd waive those rules with both the kids. Which I bet they won't.

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Lisabob --


I am more than willing to cook in the kitchen if they would allow me to, but they won't.


I even have a current Food Handler's permit. So any relevant laws should be satisfied. But the Council regulations prohibit it.


And I know the poor kid willing to eat salad all week is going to be miserable. I can live on salad all week myself, but my idea of a salad includes things like grilled chicken and hard boiled eggs!


If my son's willing to live off canned chili for the week, he can probably do that, but I won't be able to go without full access to a kitchen. I am 7 months pregnant right now and balanced nutrition for me is absolutely critical... even more so than it would be for another woman in the same situation due to years of intestinal damage caused by eating gluten before I knew it was slowly killing me. Thankfully at least my son was diagnosed sooner and doesn't have as much damage.


And I don't know if we have enough adults to cover the troop at camp if I don't go, since I was signed up for the whole week.

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Shortridge -- There are no commercially available dehydrated foods which don't contain gluten and/or dairy as far as I'm aware. And it's too late for me to start cooking and then dehydrating an entire week's worth of meals at home. Although I do intend to do some of that for the backpacking trip.

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I have never heard of a camp that won't let you have a camp stove.. What do people do who use their camp on the off season when the kitchen isn't open?


I am pretty sure I went a full week with meat packed from home with the items I knew would not be cooked until later in the week frozen solid before I left. But, I do think I did have to swing to a store for more ice and maybe milk or other items.


No way to take a trip once at camp? Are all cars forced off the property or do they close the gate so you can't leave?


Either that or have the perisible items early in the week, and the canned chili at the end of the week.


Does the camp have open fire pits? Not the best way to cook all week, and you need to have wood in supply, but packing a cooking grate, would give you some source of heat.


Next year your troop may want to look for neighboring council camps that will at least allow you to bring in a camp stove.. Geeeze, with that those types of rules, the council should only post "unaccomidating to any nutritial needs.. Stay home!"


I would not have even asked about the camp stove. It would have never occured to me that any camp would dis-allow it.



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Cook stove isn't needed if you can get a good supply of wood. While it's been a while, I do have fond memories cooking over a campfire But no camp should have a problem with a stove b/c many have cook offs and what not to keep the leaders' occupied. So most troops bring a stove or two and a few Dutch ovens.


Also there are places that rent dorm fridges.


What did the folks do last year, or is this the two scouts' first summer camp?

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If I remember correctly, they do not allow things like "fuel" (i.e. propane or any similar product) in the campsites. Only wood. I know the adult leaders have griped about this in the past because the kids aren't allowed to bring their backpacking stoves. But I will check tomorrow when the Council office opens back up.


I can probably manage cooking over the open fire if I have to, but I am not sure we'll have enough firewood available to cook every day. And again, the biggest problem here is not that I "can't" come up with another solution, it's that it's such short notice.


Many easy-to-prepare type gluten-free foods need to be ordered online and can't be purchased in the grocery store, for one thing. I don't have that problem at home because our meat comes from our own sheep or traded with other farms for pork or beef... fresh produce is always an option when available, and for a starch we can usually do potatoes, rice, or something like corn tortillas. And the store does carry gluten-free pasta. But the stuff the camp serves the kids all comes from the Sysco food truck and is the cheapest, nastiest stuff you can find. I am fairly sure their hamburgers contain "fillers" (they're really disgusting... I used to choke them down before I knew about my gluten problem) and those fillers often consist of things like wheat and oats.


Breakfast shouldn't be a problem as I already have a stash of gluten-free oatmeal, can buy Corn Chex at any grocery store, and can make oatmeal or eggs over a camp fire. Again, that's going to be problematic for the kid who refuses to look different at meals, but I guess that's his problem. He can either be hungry or learn that he's just always going to be different and deal with it.


Ok, here's where I shamefully admit something, though. I am an abject failure at getting or keeping a campfire going. So when the boys are off working on their merit badges, I'm going to be spending the entire day burning my fingers on boxes and boxes of matches trying to get the fire lit so I can cook dinner. And then it probably still won't be cooked. The boys are all pretty good at it, but they're going to be busy doing summer camp stuff. This is where it's a different situation from when the kids go camping for the weekend. They have TIME to prepare their own meals (because of the special dietary needs, their patrol never cooks together; they all prepare their meals "backpacking style" and each kid brings his own food and backpacking stove). But at summer camp, they don't have time in the schedule set aside for cooking, because that's what the dining hall is for.

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* Although it may be possible to rent a small fridge, I don't know where I'd find one on such short notice. Any ideas? Still don't know where I'd plug it in, though.


* Last year, my son was not yet diagnosed, so he ate the regular camp food. The other kid pretty much starved as long as he could, then was reduced to things like trying to get the corn coating off the corn dogs because he was so hungry he couldn't take it anymore. Which isn't an acceptable solution, of course, because even if he's lucky and the hot dog doesn't contain gluten, the flour from the batter has cooked into it and can't be removed. He was super sick by the end of the week and took several days to recover.

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I have to agree with the councils position on the RV, they should have responded sooner.



Did you even read shortridges links


Dehydrated food is for the rich backpacker/camper. Your grocery store has a large selection of less expensive foods. Shelf stable chicken in bags, Spam, flavored tuna and other meats precooked in bags. Not to mention the selection of knorr meals yes they have rice too. you can sub rice noodles for ramen.


Who needs a fridge, a cooler with a mid week supply drop would be perfect.


I would take a stove, jetboil or something small, they will never know. Heck we take a stove every year just to make coffee.


While I sympathize with you and your sons allergy. You are two or four out of what 500 people.



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